I once observed that Ayn Rand's disembodied conception of production ('industrial wealth [is] the product of man's mind' (1)) owes its popularity to the fact that university students, who are as removed from the ACTUAL production process as can be, are in no way prepared to understand where and how wealth, in fact, originates. Because college kids don't see the process, they can be led astray by all sorts of ideological attempts to deny the role of labor in the production of wealth. To understand how wealth is created, one must be near the action.
Only the bourgeoisie (who exploits labor) and the industrial proletariat (who supplies it under conditions of coercion) are really near the action. This explains why revolutionaries infiltrate unions and factories: industrial workers, involved in the production process, understand that labor is socialized and that labor is the true originator of value.*
Other workers, however, are located outside the production sphere. Many of them, especially today, are to be found laboring in the circulation sphere---such as retail, marketing, and multitudinous forms of bookkeeping.
While the production process engenders a revolutionary perspective because productive work creates use-values, the circulation process blocks such a perspective because circulation work merely realizes the exchange-value from the use-values created in the production process.**
Also, the production sphere workers---unlike the circulation sphere workers---are materially able to wrest control of (the means of) production, an essential step in activating the proletarian revolution, due to their physical placement in the production process.
In practical terms, factory workers can take over the factory and realize revolutionary aims attendant upon the factory worker?s possession of value-creating power BUT retail workers, if they took over the shop, could not realize anything but capitalistic aims because they are dependent upon the surplus-values created by the factory workers in order to realize their circulation wages. Thus the retail proletariat shares the same interests as the retail capitalist: extracting surpluses from the real source of wealth: productive labor.***
Hence Lenin's succinct definition of classes:
The fundamental criterion by which classes are distinguished is the place they occupy in social production, and, consequently, the relation in which they stand to the means of production.(2)
Trotsky appraises class power not by numerical strength but, as Lenin above, by propinquity to the creation of use-values (without which no class, producer or expropriator, could possibly exist):
[O]ne might agree that, numerically, the middle-class elements in the town, and especially in the country, still maintain an extremely prominent position. But the chief meaning of evolution has shown itself in the decline in importance on the part of the middle-classes from the point of view of production: the amount of values which this class brings to the general income of the nation has fallen incomparably more rapidly than the numerical strength of the middle classes. Correspondingly, falls their social, political, and cultural importance.(3)
Because both the petty proprietor (the traditional middle class---to which Trotsky above refers) and the circulation worker (the modern middle class) are removed from the production of use-values, they are both sustained upon its surpluses. Because both the petty proprietor and the circulation worker are removed from the production of use-values, they are less susceptible to the observation that labor (even large-scale capital) is socialized---a key component of communist consciousness. Because both the petty proprietor and the circulation worker are further and further removed from the production of use-values, they are less capable of playing a significant role in the inevitable clash between those who PRODUCE the necessities and wealth of life and those who merely LIVE UPON the produce of those whose labor creates them.
Where a worker stands in relation to the production process determines not only how a worker perceives it---but a worker's physical potential to seize it.
Conclusion: the capitalists know very well how their riches are produced, and the production sphere workers have daily evidence that it is they (the workers) who produce these riches. The circulation workers (and the petty proprietor), because of their removal from this essential process, often do not know how wealth is created---therefore they can easily fall prey to capitalist ideology that 'industrial wealth is the product of man?s mind,' etc., etc.
Because the circulation sphere grows with each circuit of capital---once national, now global---the task of the revolutionary vanguard (to expose the capitalist system as one predicated upon worker exploitation) becomes more difficult in the 'service' (developed) nations (although there is no doubt that many circulation workers are exploited by capital in ways differing from the direct exploitation of production workers). The underdeveloped nations, where the majority of production now occurs, become, as before, the real hotbeds of proletarian potential. Because the circulation sphere grows with each circuit of capital (requiring more and more surplus from the production sphere) the internal contradictions of capital (unsustainable growth predicated upon ever increasing surplus extraction) force the workers of the production sphere (undeveloped nations) to revolt against the tyranny of capital.
It is the duty of the revolutionary vanguard to insure that the majority of circulation workers know, in time of class crisis, who are their allies (other workers) and who are their foes (the capitalists). THE (class) ENEMY IS AT HOME.
* According to Veblen, the 'machine process' (centralized social labor), a discipline as well as a culture, 'runs on lines of industrial coherence and mechanical restraint, not on lines given by pecuniary conjunctures and conventional principles of economic right and wrong' (The Theory of Business Enterprise, Scribner's 1904, p. 337), meaning the exigencies of social production itself produce an ideological perspective in which respect for individual private property is overturned.
* * 'The general law is that all costs of circulation which arise only from changes in the forms of commodities do not add to their value. They are merely expenses incurred in the realization of the value or in its conversion from one form into another' (Marx, Capital volume two, International 1967, p. 149).
* * * This sharing of interests intensifies the tendencies of imperialism. According to Lenin, each imperialist country, through its monopoly profits, can afford to bribe sections of their proletariat (a 'labor aristocracy') in order to insure that national antagonisms supersede class antagonisms. As the circulation sphere becomes larger and more geographically distant from the production sphere, imperialism again pits one type of worker against another: the circulation worker must align with its capitalist rulers because its existence in the overall circuit of capital requires the extraction of surplus-value from production sphere workers (and even other capitalists).
1. Rand, For the New Intellectual, Signet 1961, p. 40.
2. Lenin, 'Vulgar Socialism and Narodism,' Collected Works volume six, Progress Publishers 1964, pp. 264-5.
3. Trotsky, The Defense of Terrorism, George Allen & Unwin 1935, p. 32.